Divorce Hotel (Weekend Collaborative Divorce) is coming to Australia

divorcehotelAfter 35 years of being married to Jan, Paul came to the realisation he was gay.

While there was no bad blood between the pair, it was clear they could no longer stay married.

However, the idea of getting a divorce seemed cumbersome. Jan, a 56-year-old optical advisor from the east of England, visited a divorce lawyer to gather information but left with a bitter taste.

“I just got the feeling that he would have been all out to get as much [money from Paul] as possible, and I didn’t really want that.”

When Jan was scrolling through Facebook one day she stumbled across a different solution – an ad for a company called DivorceHotel.

The premise is simple: couples check in to a hotel in two separate rooms for two nights, where they undergo mediation processes behind closed doors and away from outside responsibilities.

The idea is that, over the course of a 48-hour hotel stay, all divorce arrangements can be made.

Jan and Paul booked in for their DivorceHotel in December 2017.

“I know it might sound strange but I actually looked forward to going away for those two days,” says Jan.

“It meant we had 48 hours where we were not going to be disturbed by children, not having to think abut shopping, food, cooking, anything, to have no distraction.”

She also liked the idea that the proceedings would occur on neutral ground.

While they’d “loosely” agreed on the terms of their divorce beforehand, Jan said it gave them the opportunity to “get down to the nitty gritty and get it sorted right down to the last thing”.

And, within their time at the hotel, they did just that. “Everything was all done.”

While Jan had a successful experience, she’s quick to note this kind of proceedings will only work for people on amicable terms when parting.

DivorceHotel is the brainchild of CEO Jim Halfens.

He came up with the idea after witnessing his best friend’s “extremely messy” divorce, says David Leckie, global director of DivorceHotel International.

“This led Jim to think that there just had to be a better way to do divorce.”

His idea involves providing all the professional support a couple need to arrange their divorce (“lawyer, mediator, financial advisor, maybe therapist”) all under the same roof at the same time.

Halfens developed the idea in the Netherlands around seven years ago and the company is now operating in the US and the UK, with an Australian expansion planned for 2019.

Psychologist Sharon Draper says a “weekend divorce” could help “soften the blow” of divorce.

While 48 hours might seem quick, a married couple in Australia have to be separated for a year before they can file for such proceedings. Hopefully, in that time, she says both parties would have reconciled their differences emotionally so they’re ready to nut out the details of parting.

However, she believes the process wouldn’t work for everyone.

“If the situation is still an acrimonious one, this process might not be a good one to enter as one party may still feel extremely hurt… and not ready to go through with it,” says Draper.

“Staying in a hotel alone might not be the best thing for this particular person as they would need the familiarity of their home and support of their extended family members and friends.”

Draper says couples with older children may also benefit from involving them in decisions about splitting their time between each parent’s residence. However, such details could be worked out at the hotel and then confirmed with their offspring later.


Finalising her divorce wasn’t exactly a pleasant experience, says Jan. Rather, she says it was a “positive” one.

“It’s very intense and very emotional, obviously,” she says, although she thinks tackling the whole thing in a weekend was the best choice for her.

Instead of hiring two separate lawyers and having a divorce “drag on for months and months with paperwork going backwards and forwards between [them]”, Jan was thrilled the whole process was over in a couple of days.

“It was a good experience. I would definitely recommend it.”

From Pre-Nups to Pet-Nups: Marriage Generation Z style

pet-nupGeneration Z couples are crossing their Ts and dotting their Is before getting hitched, as research shows the rise of the ‘practical prenup’.

A leading divorce lawyer has said that the young generation of future newlyweds are increasingly concerned with making sure assets like pets and alcohol collections are considered before saying ‘I do’.

A recent study found that 42 per cent of women intend to sign a prenup with their partner before they walk down the aisle, compared to 36 per cent of men who feel the same.

The research revealed the rise in what they are calling ‘practical prenups’: an update to the usual written contract a couple enter into before marriage that predetermines what will happen to assets in the event of a divorce.

It was highlighted that 57 per cent of females think businesses should be included in a prenup, compared to 53 per cent of men.

Interestingly, 42 per cent of females also said a future prenup that they would draft should contain pets, compared to 35 per cent of men.

The term ‘pet nup’ actually began to circulate last year when lawyers saw an increase in couples determining what would happen to their beloved animals.

Earlier this year, Direct Line Pet Insurance revealed that nearly 30,000 divorce cases that reach a courtroom involve conflict over a pet.

The law firm believed that young women’s ‘top priorities’ proved to be ‘very sensible’ – with 75 per cent favoring a home and second home when considering what should be included in a prenup (compared to 71 per cent of men) and 69 per cent choosing savings and investments (in comparison to 63 per cent of men.)

Thinking somewhat outside the box, men did seem to consider other material items, with 50 per cent electing for cars and motorcycles, although so too did 43 per cent of women.

While many prenups the world over contain clauses about what happens if one party starts excessively drinking alcohol, it’s rather unusual for a prenup to actually outline who has a right to take ownership of a booze collection.

Some 31 per cent of men surveyed said that wine, whisky and gin collections should be included (versus only 13 per cent of women).

Amanda Rimmer, a Partner in the Family Law division at Stephensons Solicitors LLP, said that younger individuals are likely influenced by celebrity culture.

Details of prenups for modern-day couples like Beyonce and Jay Z, as well as Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban, have been widely circulated online.

Kanye West’s track Gold Digger immortalized the lyric, ‘Holla, We want prenup! We want prenup!’ – though ironically, when he wed Kim Kardashian in 2014, their agreement was that he would pay her $1 million a year for 10 years if the marriage didn’t work out. Back then Kim was worth $40 million, but today that net worth stands at a huge $370 million.

According to Amanda, it’s that openness had has led to a generation that are much more accepting of talking about contracts, net worth and assets with their significant other.

‘The stigma of consulting a solicitor ahead of getting hitched has long ago disappeared. Generation Z has grown up influenced by celebrity culture and take a realistic approach to marriage or civil partnerships.’

‘It’s encouraging that young people, especially women, feel comfortable talking about money and want to protect their assets,’ Amanda added.

‘If a relationship does end, and 42 per cent now do, then a prenup can help to protect you and your partner from greater financial and emotional stress. If prepared properly they are given substantial weight in court and while they are not an automatically binding legal document, they can help cut down areas of dispute,’ Amanda added.

Without a prenup, the lawyer noted that individuals run the risk of having to divide ‘everything’ equally down the middle.

‘Deciding to sign-up to this kind of agreement is a very personal decision and one you should make as a couple. I’d always recommend instructing a specialist family law solicitor who has experience in this field and finalizing your agreement well in advance of your ceremony,’ she said.

How to stop your new spouse from cheating your kids out of inheritance

How to stop your new spouse from cheating your kids out of inheritanceHow would you feel if your estate went to a complete stranger, someone you’d never even met? It’s more likely than you might expect.

Jack* and Jill* were married in 1981 and had two children. They were happily married for 32 years. In that time they both worked and saved and, with help of some late-career compulsory superannuation, built up a tidy nest egg.

The assets Mary inherited from Jack included wealth that Jill had worked so hard for, believing that her kids would ultimately benefit.

In their wills Jack and Jill left their respective estates to each other. They agreed the survivor would look after the children. Jill died from breast cancer at 68. Jack was heartbroken, alone for the first time in decades.

Try as he might to fill his life with hobbies, kids, grandchildren and friends, Jack was lonely. He missed the closeness of a trusted, intimate partner; the companionship for those times when family and friends weren’t around. That’s when, at the age of 71, he met Mary*, 15 years his junior.

For Jack nothing could replace the wonderful years he had spent with Jill. But his life with Mary alleviated that awful loneliness. They had been dating for about six months when Jack invited Mary to live with him. They became a de facto couple.

New will

After a while Mary began to feel that, as she was likely to outlive him, it would be only fair for him to make provisions for her in his will. She understood that Jack wanted his kids to have most of his estate but surely she should get something.

As time passed, Jack became more reliant on Mary and very thankful for her care. He started to feel that leaving her a large portion of his estate was important. Then after Mary confirmed to him that she’d look after his children, Jack agreed to give everything in his estate to her. Her solicitor prepared Jack’s new will.

When Jack died, Mary was his sole beneficiary. In her view Jack’s children, who’d never been very close to her, were doing well and didn’t really need any of Jack’s estate. Mary felt that she and her only child were much more in need, so she managed Jack’s estate for her benefit alone.

The money and assets that Mary inherited from Jack included all the wealth that Jill had worked so hard for, believing that her kids would ultimately benefit. Jill’s estate had passed to a complete stranger.

Is this case unusual? No, it is in fact quite common.

There are a number of different estate planning strategies to avoid this – but first couples have to acknowledge that Jack and Jill’s story could happen to them. Couples need to have the conversation acknowledging that when one of them dies, things change forever.

That change is not a reflection on the past. It does not alter in any way the importance of their relationship – the love and devotion given and received during decades of married life. It simply reflects a new situation, one that neither of them has ever been in and that is therefore unknown.

Worth talking about

Often couples are unwilling to focus on the issue. They may not understand the potential for the problem to occur. One or both may think that raising the issue would be a sign of distrust in their spouse, an indication their marriage was not strong, that they were trying to exert power over their spouse or “rule from the grave” or a view that fixing the problem would be too complicated or costly.

As understandable as these thoughts are, they are not a good reason to put the children’s inheritance at risk. They can be partially overcome by a confidential chat with the family solicitor who could recommend the relevant solution to both members of the couple without needing to reveal the concern was initiated by one of them.

To protect her estate for her children, and as a half-owner in the family home, Jill could have given Jack the right to live in their family home until his death or remarriage after which the home would be sold and the proceeds from Jill’s half share given to the children.

She could also have arranged for Jack to receive only the income from Jill’s share of the couple’s assets and ensure the capital would go to the kids once Jack passed. She could appoint Jack and her two children as joint executors so that her wishes were met.

Protecting your children’s inheritance is about good planning – and that can only happen through pragmatic awareness and recognition of what is possible.

*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals.

Related Family Law Judgments

How to assist victims of financial abuse

ending-financial-abuseThere are “strong indications” that somewhere between 50 per cent to 90 per cent of family violence cases involve economic abuse, and as such, it is imperative that lawyers know how to support clients through such traumatic incidences, argues one boutique practitioner.

In conversation with Lawyers Weekly, Faigenbaum Family Lawyers principal Talya Faigenbaum said, as with other forms of family violence, financial abuse occurs “throughout the social spectrum and does not differentiate between class, culture, background or postcode”.

What is financial abuse

“The effects of financial abuse also cut across sectors: from the telecommunications industry, banking and finance, utilities and essential service providers to housing and tenancy, motor vehicles and visa and migration matters. Indicators of financial abuse can therefore appear in legal claims across a range of courts and tribunals, from the family court to small claims tribunals such as VCAT, local or magistrates courts and immigration tribunals,” she mused.

It is therefore crucial, she surmised, that lawyers in all practice areas are able to identify the signs of financial abuse and take appropriate steps toward assisting their clients.

Ms Faigenbaum explained that financial abuse is an “unlawful pattern of behaviour deliberately designed to undermine a victim’s financial security and autonomy”.

“Commonly, perpetrators of economic abuse will take control of all household finances, restrict a victim’s access to bank accounts, incur debt in the victim’s name through coercion or deception or prevent a victim from gaining independent employment. Like other forms of family violence, economic abuse is highly gendered and can have significant long-term impacts on the lives of women and children,” she said.

“There are some unique aspects to financial abuse, however, which make it distinctively destructive. Primarily this is because the abusive behaviour can continue even after a couple have separated. As a family lawyer I have seen countless situations where one partner uses mechanisms of financial control to inflict ongoing harm, long after a relationship has ended and when other forms of abuse are no longer at their disposal. In this context, victims can remain tied to their abusers for years as they attempt to disentangle complex financial relationships.”

Protecting against financial abuse

There are simple steps lawyers can take to assist a client that may be a victim of financial abuse, she outlined.

“There are valuable resources available online, and for lawyers who do not ordinarily practice in the areas of family law or family violence, it may be helpful to cultivate a connection with frontline family violence specialists. Reaching out to a local community legal centre is a good place to start,” she suggested.

“Financial counsellors also play a critical role in assisting victims of economic abuse as they have more direct access to hardship liaison officers at banks, utilities providers, telecommunications companies and Centrelink.

“Lawyers can actively assist in these referral pathways or simply provide their clients with the information they need to access these services.”

On the question of legislative protections, Ms Faigenbaum said that Australia has “some of the most expansive family violence provisions in the world”, with most Australian states and territories recognising financial abuse as a legislated form of family violence.

“Yet despite this legal recognition, awareness of financial abuse and the remedial responses available are still limited,” she said.

Identifying issues as lawyers

Further, the lack of awareness and understanding of economic abuse among victims, the community, police and even within the legal profession, “all contribute to an ongoing exposure to harm”, she continued.

“As lawyers we are often given intimate access to our client’s financial circumstances, whether we are directly assisting them in resolving a family breakdown, structuring their family trusts, preparing wills or assisting with estate planning or property acquisition and disposal.

“Even as employers, we may encounter situations where a staff member is experiencing one or more variations of financial abuse.”

“Being able to identify and understand the impact of economic abuse and make appropriate referrals is not only an important part of our role as legal practitioners and business owners but will help drive a increased awareness of this often invisible form of family violence.”

Ms Faigenbaum is looking to take meaningful action herself, however, adding she is currently leading “an exciting project” at West Heidelberg Community Legal Service to develop a smartphone app designed to assist victim-survivors and their support workers identify financially abusive behaviour and take steps toward reclaiming their financial security.

“We are still in the early stages of iteration and user testing but it’s proving to be a very valuable tool to assist victims and survivors struggling to recover from the effects of financial abuse. We’re excited about taking it forward,” she said.